The three weeks of vacation I have aren’t nearly enough for a travel addict like me. In order to squeeze more travel time into the year, I try to plan around holidays whenever practical. I decided the four day Thanksgiving weekend was too much free time to pass up, so I tacked on my last vacation day and started planning a trip to Prague. Not wanting to waste most of a day on a layover in the Paris or Amsterdam airport, I decided to book my flight into London’s Gatwick airport. That gave me 11 hours between landing in London and the flight I booked on easyJet to get to Prague.
After going through customs and putting my backpack in the left luggage, I got on the Gatwick Express, which runs between Gatwick and Victoria Station, 30 minutes each way. Having already been to London several years ago, my main goal was to visit the British Museum because I didn’t get there last time I was in London. Since the museum doesn’t open until 10AM I decided it would be my last stop. I really wanted to get pictures of some of the places I saw years ago, before having a digital camera.
Buckingham Palace is only a few blocks from Victoria Station, so it was my first visit. The whole time I kept thinking, I can’t believe I’m in London! The excited, I-can’t-believe-I’m-here thoughts are typical for me the first day or so of any trip, even if it’s a repeat visit. I just love the feeling of being somewhere different, the challenges of being away from the familiarities of home. I didn’t stay for the changing of the guard because I was about two hours too early, but it was still neat to see the guards marching back and forth.
From there, I walked through St. James Park and enjoyed the last few scraps of autumn. The flowers were still colorful, but the leaves had almost all fallen off the trees. Ducks waddled around and swam in the water, runners jogged through the park for exercise, a cute couple walked by holding hands. I simply braced myself against the cold, which was at least keeping me awake after my red-eye flight.
Once I reached the other end of the park, I was only a few blocks from Big Ben, one of the most recognized landmarks in London. Since it had been many years since my previous trip to London, I didn’t realize Westminster Abbey was almost right next to Big Ben until I was right in front of it. That was a nice little bonus since I wasn’t expecting to see it while I was there that day. I took dozens of pictures of Big Ben, but I think this is one of my favorites because you can also see the London Eye in the back. I didn’t think I would have time for the London Eye, so just getting a glimpse of it behind Big Ben was nice.
By this point, I had been walking around for a few hours, being tortured by the cold, and I was really ready for an indoor activity. I started walking towards the museum, passing Trafalgar Square on my way. I welcomed the warmth of the British Museum and studied the map to see where I wanted to go first. The famous Rosetta Stone was fairly close to the Great Court, so I went there first. A huge group of school children and parents admired the stone, and while it is impressive, I wondered how many people would’ve even heard of it had it not been for the well-known language company. After that I wandered from room to room, finding some items interesting and some just chunks of ancient carvings. I know the British Museum is supposed to be this impressive, amazing museum, but to me it was just another museum, which meant I was done with it after about an hour or two. I drank a hot chocolate before facing the cold again to find lunch and eventually heading back to the airport.
Overall, I really enjoyed my day in London. It was nice to see landmarks I last saw when I was 14, and it turned out to be a great way to combat jet lag. Other than dozing off for 20 minutes here and there on the flight to London and the flight from London to Prague, I had to stay awake all day. This meant by the time I got to my room in Prague, it was 10PM and a perfectly acceptable time to go to bed. While I’d probably never want to run through a city I’ve never been to in a matter of hours, it was a great alternative to a boring layover stuck in an anonymous airport.